Not only is it educational for kids to see frozen red raspberries being flung into a shockingly pink smoothie, muffins rising in the oven, or a fried egg yolk turning from golden to pale salmon; it is magic. Cooking with kids is messy and time-consuming, but the life skills your kids learn are totally worth the effort. As a mother of four children between the ages of 5 and 12, I spent a lot of time with my children in the kitchen. Here are six tips that surprise my friends the most:
1. Use your sharpest knives.
Blunt knives are actually more dangerous than sharp knives for both children and adults. Sharp knives glide smoothly and easily through food. Knife accidents generally occur when we have to apply pressure or saw through the cut with a dull knife. Then it can also come to knife slippage. Two keys to safety are first: Supervise children to ensure their fingers are a safe distance from the blade. And secondly, only let children cut objects that have a flat surface and sit firmly on the cutting board; Prepare rounded foods such as onions or apples in half and place cut-side down on cutting board so foods lay flat.
2. Encourage clutter.
Cleaning up on the go is a smart habit to encourage. This helps keep a child’s workspace clutter-free. But I found out the hard way that I put too much emphasis on cleanliness. When I asked my 8 year old why she hadn’t helped me in the kitchen lately, she told me she didn’t want to upset me with a mess. point scored! Now we put more emphasis on cleaning up at the end.
3. Let children lick the beaters, spoons and their fingers.
Licking fingers is not only fun, but also helps children to experience food with all their senses. (Just remind them to wash their hands after licking their fingers.) Lick the beaters after whipping cream but before adding sugar or vanilla for a real creaminess experience. Taste a spoonful of the soup before and after salting; If kids like the soup even before the salt, you may be able to add less salt.
4. Eat dessert first.
Nothing spoils the joy of measuring and mixing up a batch of oatmeal cookies like saying you’ll have to wait until after dinner to taste them. I’m a nutritionist, but I’m still a firm believer in desserts for dinner. If my kids eat dessert before dinner, that’s fine; then it is considered part of the meal, not a reward for eating vegetables. Also, they don’t eat dessert at the end of the meal when their tummies may already be full.
5. Touch everything, even raw meat and eggs.
Teach your kids where their food comes from and what it feels like. Let them touch dirt-encrusted vegetables. Discover the different feeling of fresh mushroom gills and smooth mushroom tips. Have them help you mix up the meatloaf by squeezing their hands into the raw ground beef and eggs. Kids will be more willing to try a new food once they’ve invested in the preparation.
6. Don’t wait for the perfect time.
Even on time-sensitive nights, let the kids help cook dinner. With one kid at the table doing homework, one practicing the piano (loudly), one dancing under your feet, it doesn’t seem like the perfect time to have the fourth kid help me with dinner. But I try never to say no. There is always something to cut or measure. And beginning readers can read the next step of the recipe with pride.
And soon you’ll be saying something like this to your kid: “Don’t forget to make a snack for your club meeting tomorrow. Here’s the cookbook, do it.”
Serena Ball, MS, RD is a Food Writer and Registered Dietitian. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com, sharing tips and tricks to help families find shortcuts to healthy living. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Snapchat.
Healthy snacks kids can make
10 healthy eating habits to teach your kids
Play with your food: fun recipes for kids